Orlando Sentinel | By Skyler Swisher | March 10, 2022
Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly attacked Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers, on Thursday after its CEO voiced concerns with Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill approved by the Florida Legislature this week.
DeSantis slammed Disney at an event with supporters in Boca Raton, accusing the company of staying silent on human rights abuses in China while pushing “woke” ideology, according to a video aired “exclusively” on Fox News’ website.
The DeSantis-Disney battle centers on legislation officially titled Parental Rights in Education but called the “don’t say gay” bill by critics. The bill limits classroom instruction on “sexual orientation and gender identity” for grades kindergarten through three or in a manner that is not “age appropriate.”
“You have companies, like at Disney, that are going to say and criticize parents’ rights, they’re going to criticize the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten in first grade classrooms,” DeSantis said. “If that’s the hill they’re going to die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the Communist Party of China? Because that’s what they do, and they make a fortune, and they don’t say a word about the really brutal practices that you see over there at the hands of the CCP.”
He added, “In Florida, our policies [have] got to be based on the best interest of Florida citizens, not on the musing of woke corporations.”
Opponents say the bill’s language is vague and singles out the LGBTQ community.
A Disney spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Disney has come under fire for filming parts of the movie “Mulan” in Xinjiang province where there are widespread accusations of human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party. The company also has theme parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
The company, which employs about 60,000 people in Central Florida, carries immense political power in the Sunshine State and is a major donor to politicians. DeSantis has received $106,809 since May 2019 from Disney through his political committee, according to campaign finance records.
DeSantis’ comments came after Disney CEO Bob Chapek called him on Wednesday to express the company’s concern that the bill could be used to unfairly target LGBTQ children and families. Chapek went public with his criticisms for the first time on the day after it passed. DeSantis has indicated he supports it.
“The governor heard our concerns and agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss ways to address that,” he said during an annual shareholders meeting.
DeSantis is open to meeting with Chapek as long as the discussion is “grounded in facts,” said Christina Pushaw, the governor’s spokeswoman. She said an in-person meeting has not been scheduled.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, accused DeSantis of being a hypocrite by accepting Disney’s campaign cash.
“Republican Party of Florida & almost every lawmaker accepts money from Disney… so you’re taking the $ you’re attacking,” she wrote on Twitter. “Real smooth.”
The Magic Kingdom at Disney World attracted more than 20 million visitors in 2019 before the pandemic struck, making it the most-visited theme park in the world.
Staff writer Steven Lemongello contributed to this report.